Junichi Kagesawa spent much of his youth frequenting game arcades in Tokyo after school and quickly made a name for himself with his aggressive style at winning.
He went on to study science and engineering at the University of Tsukuba’s graduate school and assumed he had his career cut out.
But his childhood passion for gaming never left him. Now aged 40, Kagesawa landed his dream job in January as vice president of NTTe-Sports, a subsidiary of NTT East Corp. established that month jointly with broadcaster SKY Perfect JSAT Corp. and entertainment provider Taito Corp.
His role is to promote e-sports, a relatively new fad in which fans compete with one another while viewing others battling it out in other computer games. He believes this form of interaction could prove beneficial in revitalizing local areas.
As a youngster, Kagesawa never envisaged a professional future playing video games.
At a news conference to announce the formation of the subsidiary, an NTT East executive stated the business got started “partly because of people like Kagesawa within our corporation.”
An individual who attended the session referred to Kagesawa as “a figure who has been supporting (e-sports) like a father.”
Born in 1979 in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward, Kagesawa was a frequent fixture at game arcades after classes finished at his junior high school.
His friends and admirers soon dubbed him “Kagecchi” in recognition of his expertise in the fight game “Street Fighter.” Kagesawa honed his skills at large amusement arcades in the capital’s Akihabara and Shinjuku entertainment districts.
Even after enrolling in the University of Tsukuba in 1998, Kagesawa continued to compete at game arcades. He found himself more attracted to the idea of organizing video game events than simply playing alone.
“Only one person can win in the end,” he said. “I wanted to create an environment where the loser didn’t have to return home burdened with the bitterness of defeat.”
Acting on that idea, Kagesawa organized team competitions and post-game parties at restaurants. He also set up a website to encourage video game fans to socialize with one another, and traveled a lot to test his “fight” skills against proven strong players.
Through these activities, he formed a network of like-minded people across the country.
GAMING AS AN OCCUPATION
While he was studying at graduate school, Kagesawa gave no thought to joining the video game industry as he frowned on the idea of mixing business with pleasure.
During his interview with NTT East, Kagesawa thought it best not to play up his knowledge about game titles, reasoning that to do so could affect the company’s evaluation of him. In those days, graduates had a hard time finding jobs due to a decade-long recession known as the “employment ice age.”
He joined NTT East in 2004 as an engineer, and was part of a team that created a movie database and streamlined the service to deal with telephone line failures.
While working at the company, Kagesawa continued organizing meetings that created a buzz among game buffs. His techniques as an event host were so admired that Kagesawa was asked by other organizers to help out at events they also planned.
Kagesawa still organizes a near-weekly “Street Fighter V” contest in the capital in which around 5,000 people compete annually. More than 10 of the participants have gone on to make a name for themselves as professional game players.
February 2018 marked a turning point for Kagesawa when he appeared at a discussion meeting to share his know-how about organizing events. One of Kagesawa’s colleagues came across footage of the gathering on the internet.
After executives of NTT East learned about Kagesawa’s gaming skills, its president floated the idea of starting an e-sports business.
The president commented in a January 2019 media interview that the company was leaning that way “because it has a famous e-sports player in its ranks.”
Kagesawa read the interview, but didn’t twig that it referred to him.
In July 2019, Kagesawa was assigned to help set up an e-sports team within the corporation and transferred from the technical division to the business strategy department. He was later instrumental in setting up the new subsidiary.
That same year, a national athletics meet in Ibaraki Prefecture adopted e-sports as part of its cultural program.
The video game competition is also planned as a formal event at the Asian Games scheduled for 2022 in Hangzhou, China.
The e-sports industry is increasingly viewed by corporations as offering a business opportunity, and NTTe-Sports projects annual sales of 4 billion yen ($36.89 million) in five years.
At NTTe-Sports, Kagesawa is striving to slash costs so video game competitions can be held outside urban regions. The reason for this is that large events require millions of yen to stage. Organizing a working communications environment and staffing mean events are usually held in large cities where high attendance is generally the rule.
Kagesawa clings to the belief that it is possible to revitalize local communities through video games. This is based on his experience of getting to know and socializing with countless people by playing at amusement arcades during his school days.
He is currently working to introduce video game clubs at schools. He remains painfully aware of the need to reassure children’s guardians and others that the youngsters are in little danger of becoming addicted to video-gaming.
Unlike years past, Kagesawa now accepts that his career requires him to be involved in video games both at work and in his private life.
“I made up my mind to contribute to the game industry as it is my true calling,” Kagesawa said. “Video games are a tool to make life more amusing. I want to share that pleasure with as many people as possible.”
Kagesawa, however, concedes there is a downside to working in the game industry. He is now too busy to share house chores on a 50-50 basis with his wife, whether it be picking up their two children at after-school child-care centers or going with them to a nearby supermarket to buy ingredients to make their favorite garlic-flavored fried chicken and other meals for dinner.
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